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Celebrating Urban Agriculture in Australia

Henry Crawford, Sustain: The Australian Food Network

Growing #urbanagriculture across Australia


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A leading objective of the 2016 Urban Agriculture Forum was sharing the lessons of best practice urban agriculture models from around Australia. Despite the value gained in looking at urban agriculture practices overseas, it is important to acknowledge the progress and celebrate what has been achieved in urban agriculture around Australia over the past few decades.

Recognising this, in addition to the urban agriculture practitioners from around Victoria that spoke at the Forum, Sustain invited representatives from Queensland (Morag Gamble – SEED), New South Wales (Michael Zagoridis – Pocket City Farm) and the Northern Territory (Anthea Fawcett – Remote Indigenous Gardens Network) to share their lessons and celebrate their successes from interstate. As part of the objective, Sustain: The Australian Food Network has compiled a number of case studies of urban agriculture models from around the country, with the intention to celebrate and share the richness and diversity of urban agriculture as it exists today in Australia.

A.C.T – Canberra City Farm

The Canberra City Farm (CCF) is a not-for-profit volunteer based organisation that creates opportunities for practical action-based education and demonstration for growing and enjoying healthy foods and sharing sustainable living practices. It was incorporated in the ACT in 2012 with many of the CCF activities undertaken in collaboration with other like-minded groups and businesses within the ACT and nearby areas of NSW.

Following successful displays at Floriade in 2013 and 2014, and a small demonstration site at the inner city suburb of Turner, CCF was granted a ten year licence in 2015, with an option for a further ten years, to use a two hectare site at Fyshwick, ACT. This new site is in the early days of development and provides an ideal opportunity for CCF to create a leading-edge demonstration site for all Canberrans and nearby residents to experience how they can live more sustainably within their ordinary urban block. The size of the site allows CCF to provide practical demonstrations of healthy sustainable food production on scales ranging from balconies, through moderate size courtyards and normal backyards, up to commercial market gardens. Skill sharing is facilitated by hosting on-site gardening and market gardening courses which includes information about the impact of food production on healthy soils and environmental health, and provides volunteering opportunities for members in its demonstration gardens. In the future there will also be workshops and courses on healthy and sustainable food preparation and consumption.

CCF is also a hub for connecting local groups, farmers, food producers and urban people. Through the CCF food box initiative, urban dwellers are connected with local and regional food producers helping to bridge the urban-rural divide and connect people to the local food economy.

In addition to the CCF focus on creating demonstrations of sustainable food growing, it is also showcasing sustainable building techniques and demonstrating renewable energy options. A demonstration building is currently being developed that provides options for improving the efficiency of homes, decreasing energy/water use, as well as demonstrating options for energy generation and water harvesting.

CCF is a place for enjoying communal space, a pleasant space for social gatherings and a learning hub where the community can creatively share knowledge and experience of socially, economically and environmentally responsible food production and sustainable living.

Tasmania - Hobart City Farm

Hobart City Farm are a not-for profit, urban farming, social enterprise focused on creating meaningful livelihoods and a vibrant, local and resilient food system. They started working on this idea in 2012, found the land in 2014 (belonging to the state government) and broke ground in early 2015. They farm just over 1200m2 of what was once neglected, compacted grass in central New Town. Now entering their second growing season they sell their produce through an online shop and to a limited amount of local restaurants.

The farm is passionate about investing in local and regional food systems so the community has reliable access to nutritious food. At a time where farmers are walking off their land and the average age of Australian farmers is over 55, they are walking onto vacant land and re-embracing one of the most important jobs in the world.

Growing food in the heart of the community is seen as a way to rebuild a healthy food culture, connecting people with where their food comes from and the people who grow it. Rather than being controlled by a small handful of multinational agribusiness and food distributors, Hobart City Farm are serious about creating

“a food system in which people have the opportunity to choose, create and manage their food supply from paddock to plate”

New South Wales - Pocket City Farms

Working to bring urban farms to Sydney’s unused spaces, Pocket City Farms have recently opened their first farm on the abandoned bowling greens at Camperdown Bowling Club.

Pocket City Farms is a not-for-profit association established and run by a crew of skilled individuals, who are motivated and passionate about urban farming and sustainability. With a team of five board members the farm is managed by two of the co-founders, Emma Bowen and Michael Zagoridis.

The farm is a hub around which the local community can gather to learn about all things farming and food growing, to buy super-local, chemical-free produce, participate in our composting program, and take part in many workshops and events. Importantly, the farm is a place to visit and enjoy productive green space in the city, a place to sink your feet in the soil, and learn all about where exactly our food comes from and how it’s grown.

The bowling greens have been converted into 1200m2 of market garden using organic practices to grow vegetables, herbs and salad greens. A greenhouse has been established to grow seedlings for the market garden and for sale to the public, and a 16 metre compost unit has been established for a community composting program to turn over food scraps from local’s homes.

The farm is a community hub of local food production and education. It is a community oriented social enterprise and a showcase of urban farming, following international examples that have proven to be positive examples for facilitating changes in urban communities. A diverse range of the community visits the farm for a range of activities.

Weekly volunteer opportunities are available to all, with community members regularly signing up to come and get their hands in the soil. Community and school groups are able to coordinate interactive group sessions and private tours on the farm. A farm gate stall operates every Saturday morning with the local community coming to buy the produce that was grown just a block or two from their homes.

Regular workshops are held every week or two at affordable prices to provide education for all ages and backgrounds on growing food, composting, cooking, preventing food waste, and other areas of food, garden, lifestyle and health. A demonstration garden has been set up to help facilitate these workshops and showcase how to grow food on a small scale at home.

The farm is also host to weekly yoga classes, while many come to simply use the area as a socially interactive green space. The street verge of the farm has also been planted out with edibles and will become a 180m2 food forest that will provide free food for local residents.

Victoria - Fareshare

FareShare is a not-for-profit food relief organisation that turns rescued and donated food into nutritious meals. The beginnings of FareShare were humble. In 2001 a pastry chef used food waste to create approx. 300 pies that were then distributed to people experiencing food insecurity. Since then, the focus has not changed but FareShare has expanded meal production to more than 1,000,000 meals annually and has the equivalent of 16 FT staff. The more than 800 regular volunteers are the backbone of the organisation.

With the aim of increasing access to fresh vegetables, FareShare started growing food at three sites in 2016. One staff member is employed to manage the garden program, with support from existing administrative and operational staff. Over 125 volunteers have helped create and maintain the gardens.

FareShare is piloting the garden program. Increasing the contribution to the core operation is key to the continuation of the program. Currently the Baguley farm is the only location where FareShare has the capacity to produce large amounts of food at low cost. The Baguley’s give invaluable guidance and allow FareShare to use part of their farm at no cost.

The vision for the future is to access additional agricultural sites and increase the production of fresh food. FareShare also aims to build on opportunities for increasing social benefits through the garden program.

Western Australia - Green World Revolution (GWR)

GWR is a not-for-profit environmental social enterprise, growing jobs for the unemployed. They provide pathways to sustainable livelihoods for people who are suffering from long-term unemployment, so they can improve their health and personal well-being and be relieved from poverty that comes from a reliance on social security payments. In 2013 the first urban farm was established in Gladstone Street East Perth. From this 400m2 site they now deliver fresh produce four days a week on bicycles, to 30 restaurants and cafes.

Since mid-2015 GWR have successfully created ten completely new, paid-work opportunities for previously long-term unemployed people involved in urban farming projects at this site.

By producing local food for local businesses, GWR is also helping to reduce pollution associated with food transportation and reducing waste by collecting and composting restaurant food waste and reusing substantial amounts of packaging.

South Australia - The Food Forest

The Food Forest is a 19 hectare permaculture farm and learning centre on the northern Adelaide Plain. It grows 150 varieties of food and wine, principally for the Adelaide and Gawler farmers markets and teaches some 14 short courses per year including Permaculture Design Certificates and topics such as Building with Straw Bales, Organic Vegetable Production and Free Range Poultry Management. It runs a schools program, public tours, a restoration project on the nearby Gawler River and is involved in regional natural resource, fire and water management.

Annemarie and Graham Brookman started the farm in 1983 to test and demonstrate the success of Permaculture ethics and design in creating a sustainable future for human occupation of the planet, to provide a beautiful place for their children to grow up and a sustainable income. It provides employment for five people and offers placements along the lines of WWOOFing. Local volunteers are also a feature of the Food Forest community.

The Food Forest nursery makes a range of well adapted fruit trees available to the public at realistic prices to encourage the development of edible landscapes.

The nutrient cycle of the farm revolves around composting of byproducts from on-site food processing and use of composted ‘waste’ food and green material from the city. Irrigation water includes roof run-off as well as purified wastewater from the farm and region. Being certified organic, the management of the farm poses no incompatibility issues with the surrounding city.

It has provided inspiration for thousands of students and visitors to become more food-secure and self-reliant and has been recognised in many state and national food and environmental awards.

South Australia - Village Greens

Village Greens of Willunga Creek is a diversified ½ acre market garden situated in the Aldinga Arts Ecovillage, on the urban periphery of Adelaide. The Ecovillage is home to over 130 households, with an emphasis on permaculture, environmental sustainability and community arts. Almost half the land of ecovillae is dedicated to a 17Ha farm, and, along with Village Greens, it features several orchards, woodlots, a community wastewater recycling plant, bee hives, free range hens, and sheep.

Village Greens broke ground in January 2015, and is run by Nat Wiseman and Lucy Chan. Nat has a background in urban planning, and has always had a passion for urban agriculture and small-scale, appropriate farm tools and technology. Prior to starting Village Greens, he and some friends started Wagtail Urban Farm, a micro urban farm in the suburbs of Adelaide. That experience showed him that building a productive urban farm was possible, but that in order to make a livelihood, he needed to scale up. At the same time, Lucy had completed a Permaculture Design Certificate and was looking to start a market garden on the Ecovillage farm. They met up, and the rest is history!

Nat and Lucy work hard to make Village Greens a model for small-scale, intensive market gardening, in the hope that similar projects can be replicated in other pockets of unused land in and around the city. They have hosted WWOOFers,

school groups, work experience students and volunteers and were instrumental in establishing a local grower’s collective of over 100 members which aims to support people to become better growers, whether home- or farm-scale. Village Greens focuses on intensive organic production methods to maximise yields from a small area, and grows a diverse range of seasonal vegetables. In 2015-16, they harvested over 8 tonnes of produce. They sell their vegetables to the Ecovillage residents, local and CBD restaurants, a local Farmers’ Market, aswell as providing home delivery to suburbs within Adelaide.

Northern Territory - Edugrow & The Remote Indigenous Gardens Network (RIGN)

EduGrow is a low budget, online (distance!) recognition awards program open to schools in some of Australia’s most remote communities that is all about growing ‘good food, good learning and good times’ at school in the spirit of ‘food, family and community’. It was created to support students and teachers to take action to help build healthy food and lifestyle skills in ways that may also encourage school attendance and student achievement so that more young people can look forward to a long healthy life.

Why EduGrow? Imagine this. Your community has one store which does a great job supplying fresh foods, but food is often really expensive and hard to access, especially when the wet season cuts deliveries or when many family and others visit.

Half your community are under sixteen. Many don’t attend school. When they do, they often find it hard to concentrate. English is your second or third language. You like to learn by doing things and in the oral traditions of your family. Mum and Dad may be wary of school or have other things to worry about. Many friends and relatives are unwell or have died too young because of a diet related chronic disease.

Imagine you are teacher. You want to offer learning activities that engage students and include parents. Your community has great food traditions and cultural knowledge to share alongside learning how to grow, prepare and eat new foods for fun, wellbeing and resilience.

A celebratory, strengths based program. Built around a friendly Recognition Awards program everyone who participates is recognised as a winner and contributor to a learning community, sharing tips, achievements and inspiration.

EduGrow was created by the Remote Indigenous Gardens Network in partnership with the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation, a highly successful Indigenous owned corporation who actively promote healthy food choices through the stores they own or operate across the top end. First held in 2012, EduGrow was open to all Arnhem Land schools in 2013 and 2014 and in 2015 to remote and regional schools across Australia with many diverse and wonderful entries received.

Award categories are fun, flexible and tailored for schools of different sizes and experience – from tiny homeland schools to community schools such as Shepherdson College at Galiwin’ku. Each year the Awards build upon what was popular the year before. In 2015 the most popular categories were:

  1. Healthy Soil for Healthy Food and People
  2. Planning and Making Special Places.
  3. Special Visitors and Teamwork
  4. Healthy Food Enterprise Projects, and;
  5. Local Leaders and Legends.